Review: Mortal Kombat Kollector’s Edition (Microsoft Xbox 360)

Mortal Kombat Kollector’s Edition
Genre: Fighting
Developer: NetherRealm Studios
Publisher: Warner Bros.
Release Date: 04/19/11

Mortal Kombat is one of the longest running franchises on the fighting game market at this point, having transitioned from a 2D fighting game using photo-realistic models to the world of 3D fighting games (though not without some difficulty), but for the most part it’s remained faithful to its roots. The games have been about over-the-top violence, the odd bit of humor, and of course, bloody death, and for the most part, the games have delivered, Mortal Kombat vs. DC notwithstanding. The franchise has actually managed to evolve considerably from its roots, however, as it not only has one of the most in-depth plotlines for a fighting game series all around, but has also made great strides towards improving its combat mechanics from its humble roots of every character fighting more or less the same. Mortal Kombat continues that trend, both by reinventing the combat mechanics of the series to a level that is both familiar to fans and unique to itself and by adding some interesting new elements to the plotline. The game is mostly a great entry into the franchise and is easily the best 3D Mortal Kombat in the series, though whether or not it’s one of the best 3D fighting games on the market in general is going to come down to personal preference, as there are a whole lot of things Mortal Kombat does really well, and, unfortunately, a few things it doesn’t do as well as one would hope.

Mortal Kombat actually has a pretty involved plot, not just for the genre, but in general. The game starts off, interestingly enough, at the end, as we see the final events of Mortal Kombat: Armageddon play out. Shao Kahn wins the day, as it turns out, and everyone ends up pretty much dead as a consequence. Raiden, the last to fall to Kahn, uses the last of his power to send a message that “He must win”… back to his original Mortal Kombat self, in hopes of averting a history where Earth falls and everyone dies. This version of Raiden then begins attempting to reinvent the events of the first three games, in hopes of stopping whatever event caused his future self to reach out in this fashion, often with less than desirable results. As a result, several major and minor events in the Mortal Kombat universe are changed, several characters find themselves in drastically different positions, and things don’t work out quite as Raiden would want them to, whether he realizes it or not. On one hand, the writing here is pretty top notch, as the characters are all generally well written and have some worthwhile motivations and dialogue to work with. The changed events that pop up in the game are also rather interesting, and in theory, it would be interesting to see where the writers could go from here with all of the changes made to the franchise continuity. While this is also a major reboot of the franchise canon, it’s not badly handled at all, and honestly, there really was nowhere else for the franchise to go from Mortal Kombat: Armageddon, so the reboot also makes sense, relatively speaking.

That said, there are some rather obvious issues with the plot, honestly. For one thing, the entire plot hinges on what Roger Ebert would call an “idiot plot”, as all of the bad things that happen in the plot line happen because Raiden has no idea what his own statement meant, and a whole lot of bad things happen as a result of this. Further, while the plot points that pop up to Raiden as predictions of the future seem important to him, none of them are actually, well, important in the grand scheme of things, and while the changes are interesting, one has to wonder why these points kept popping up in his head when none of them is relevant to the final outcome. Also, the ending, frankly, doesn’t seem like it was especially well thought out. I’m not talking about the actual sequence that ends the game, mind you; I’m talking about the part where a whole lot of people are dead and the writers are going to either have to make up a bunch of new characters or find some sort of cop-out to resolve the situation. Put simply, a lot of franchise favorites were completely obliterated during the plot of the game, and while we can use the old cop-out of “The Elder Gods brought them back”, that’s lame and silly. I mean, don’t get me wrong, a lot of the characters are honestly not all that exciting and could have been cleared out with little to no fan backlash because they wouldn’t have been missed very much, but the plot got a little excessive with it here, frankly, and when the alternative is seeing new characters in later games, well, I’m not excited about the possibilities of another Bo Rai Cho, let’s just say that. Restraint can be a good thing, sometimes, folks.

Mortal Kombat is definitely a very nice looking game, all in all, and while it’s not taxing the system hardware to any great degree, it does a lot of things right. The characters are all instantly identifiable, and for the most part all have very unique animations and fighting styles. The environments are 3D revamps of classic fighting locations from the series, and they all look instantly identifiable and quite excellent. The characters have also received some nice visual updates and costume changes which are all quite well designed, and though some are better looking than others, for the most part they all come together well. The game also has some nice touches, like visible damage on the characters that pops up as they take hits, that help to make the experience more interesting. The game music is all rather good, for the most part, and while you won’t find yourself wanting to listen to it outside of the game, most likely, it fits the tone of the game very well. The voice acting is all outstanding and enjoyable from one character to the next and the talent was all very well cast here as well, though, like Alex, I did notice that the voice work was overpowered by the music until I turned the default music volume down a bit. The sound effects are all very cool as well and work very well with the game all in all, and help to make combat satisfying and enjoyable.

Mortal Kombat has developed, mechanically, into a cross between the old mechanics of its predecessors and the more modern mechanics of something like Tekken, which is both interesting and welcome all around. You’re given two punch and two kick buttons, mapped to the face buttons by default, dubbed the “front” and “back” punches and kicks in this case, which you can use to attack and chain together combos as needed. Your characters also have various special moves they can perform, which are done with various directional taps rather than the standard fireball motions one might expect, along with an attack button, though the game is somewhat less sensitive than prior incarnations, and will allow for fireball motions when using down-forward attacks, which should make things easier for some. Mortal Kombat also makes use of a block button, mapped to the right trigger, instead of allowing players to hold back to do so, which allows for some more precise blocking when needed, though it can also be difficult to adjust to if you’re not used to it, and you can throw enemies with the right bumper as needed. The game offers a fairly involved tutorial to allow you to really get into the controls and figure them out, but even beyond that, they’re not very hard to learn, and you’ll likely be pulling off combos and such in no time, at the bare minimum.

Mortal Kombat mostly eschews the more involved combat elements from its predecessors, such as the multiple fighting and weapon style options, instead choosing to bring the main combat systems back to basics, but it does incorporate some more interesting additions to the formula. For one thing, characters now have a super meter at the bottom of the screen that fills as they take and deal damage, which offers several major benefits in battle. Characters can deal additional damage with special attacks by adding a press of the right trigger into their attack motions, at the cost of one section of the bar, similar to Darkstalkers or Street Fighter IV. For another, characters can also burn a bar of the meter to break out of combos after the first hit, allowing the user to turn the tide of battle and throw an opponent out of a combo. The super meter also comes into effect with the newly added Tag Battle system, where teams of two can fight each other and tag in and out at will. While tagging in and out is free of charge, players can burn a bar of the meter to summon their allies into battle to support them or to tag them in to generate larger than normal combinations, though some combos allow for tagging at no cost. Finally, when the meter is full, you can pull both triggers to kick in the X-Ray Attack, which burns all three meters to perform a fairly high damage combination that, when hits connect, shows X-Ray effects of the victim’s bones breaking, muscles tearing, and teeth flying, all to satisfying effect. The game also brings back the franchise standard Fatalities, offering each character one Fatality to start and one that can be unlocked later, and even offers a tutorial mode to teach you where to stand and how to pull them off correctly.

Once you’ve mastered the combat mechanics, it’s time to take it to the game, and there are a LOT of options available for you to do this thing. You can go through the regular or Fatality tutorials or the single or tag team practice modes if you want to get a handle on your characters and skills, then jump into the “Fight” mode and hack through a single or tag team ladder across ten different battles for fun and koins to use, or go through the “Test Your X” mini-games at various levels, of which there are four: Test Your Might (spam buttons to hit something as hard as you can), Test Your Sight (a Shell game with heads and eyes), Test Your Strike (charge a bar by spamming buttons and hit when the meter reaches the right point on the meter), and Test Your Luck (fight an enemy under randomized conditions). You can also jump into the story mode, playing as various characters across about fifteen chapters to see the events of the storyline and earn koins as a bonus. You can also jump into the Challenge Tower, which features hundreds of challenges for you to take on as various different characters, ranging from single and tag battles to battles with specific objectives to the various “Test Your X” mini-games mentioned previously and other amusing things. You can also jump online to fight players in either Ranked or Player matches, with single and tag battles being available for both and “King of the Hill” battles (normal battles where spectators can rate your performance from a spectator lobby) being available in Player matches. You can also play locally with up to four players, if you’d rather do so, in single or tag matches. The game also features a massive Krypt, which features various locations for you to spend the koins you earn on things like alternate outfits, new Fatalities, concept art, music tracks and other fun stuff, which you can review and play around with in the Nekropolis or in the game, depending on the item unlocked.

The story mode will probably take you around five or six hours to get through depending on the difficulty you play on and how good you are, but that’s only scratching the surface of how much content is available in the game. The Challenge Tower alone will probably take you twice as long to get through as the story mode, and then there’s the matter of unlocking all of the endings in the single person ladder in Fight mode and buying all of the items in the Krypt, both of which should on their own take you a good long while. Add to that the online multiplayer availability and the option for offline multiplayer for up to four people, the various different combat options available across these different game modes, and the promise of additional DLC for the game, and you’ll easily have reasons to spend hours and hours with this game. The folks behind the franchise have always had their eye on giving players the most possible amount of stuff to do that they could cram in, and Mortal Kombat easily continues with that trend, as it’s a great example of a developer filling a game with content nearly to bursting. You’ve also got plenty of Achievements to try and nab across the various single and multiplayer modes for those who are interested in this thing, and a good amount of them are easy enough to get for those who are less than skilled at fighting games in general.

Insofar as the Kollector’s Edition content is concerned, with the Xbox 360 version, you get the same bookends and art book as in the PS3 version, as well as a classic costume for Ermac, a T-shirt for your avatar, and a full Scorpion costume for your avatar. I also got a nice Reptile classic costume for ordering the game from Amazon.com, for reference purposes. Both of the classic costumes are very nice, all in all, and they’re a good representation of the characters as they appeared in earlier Mortal Kombat games, and assuming that these costumes are likely to end up as paid DLC at some point, if you get them for cheap enough relative to what you’d pay for a costume, they’re pretty nice. The avatar costume pieces are also novel, especially the full Scorpion costume, which is neat looking, though not especially imposing or anything. The crown jewels of the package, of course, are the bookends and the artbook, and both easily justify the asking price of the Kollector’s Edition pack alone. The artbook is incredibly detailed and features all sorts of concept art and renders of the characters and stages, and it’s heavy enough that you could probably knock out a burglar with it if you had to. The bookends, as Alex has mentioned, are somewhat flimsy in their detailing, all in all, but they’re very nicely designed and look great on display, and while you’re likely not going to want to have lots of heavy books sitting between them due to their lack of weight, you can easily cram all of your “E for Everybody” games in-between them if you want to. Me, I put all my psych textbooks in between them to confuse people. Yup.

Now, while Mortal Kombat is generally an in-depth and fun fighting game, that’s not to say that it’s without issue. One of the more obvious issues that becomes apparent as you spend time with it is the fact that the game has some noticeable balancing issues across the board. For one thing, while it’s nice that story mode gives a lot of different characters a chance to shine, it also gives you no time to adapt to the characters you’re given, meaning that you’ll either have to learn by force or quit to the menu and practice with the characters to actually figure out how they work, and both options are a waste of time, honestly. You could attempt to just plow through and hope for the best, and that might even work for a while, but you’ll really have to play at a difficulty below your skill level unless you’re a beast, especially when the game puts you into handicap battles against Goro and Kintaro… or, more likely, when fighting against Shao Kahn, who, while not the worst fighting game boss ever here, is in the top ten, certainly. The character balance is also mildly suspect at times, as while you’ll likely find most of the characters serviceable, a few characters feel either very, very good (Scorpion) or very, very not (Smoke comes to mind), and while player skill will be the determining factor, it seems like some characters are behind the eight ball from go. There are also some mild control issues that pop up here and there with the game not responding as it should to inputs, either due to timing hiccups or just not responding at all, though these are not so frequent as to be a big issue. Finally, when all is said and done, Mortal Kombat is basically a collection of ideas from the previous games mashed together with a couple of ideas from other games, and while it’s quite fun, it’s really nothing you haven’t seen before, be it in Tekken, Street Fighter IV, Darkstalkers, or other Mortal Kombat titles. The X-Ray Attacks are the only thing that one can call vaguely original, and Fight Club kind of did this thing previously as well.

Mortal Kombat can pretty much be called the best game in the franchise, arguably, as it retains all of the concepts that make the franchise loved by its fanbase and adds in a few new elements that keep things fresh and make the game a worthwhile acquisition for casual or diehard fighting game fans, all in all. The story is generally well written and makes good use of its characters, the visuals and audio are well composed and feature plenty of little touches to excite and amuse, and the game is familiar enough for fans while being interesting and easy enough to learn for anyone. The game is also absolutely PACKED with content, between the massive amount of modes and unlockables, and with the promise of DLC further down the line it can only get more robust from here. That said, the story is wonky at times and doesn’t work as well as it wants to, the game has some obvious balance issues at the base level, as well as some mild gameplay hiccups and a distinct lack of originality. Even with its flaws, however, Mortal Kombat is easily one of the, if not THE, best game in its series, as it’s easily the most playable and enjoyable game in the series to date, and fans and newcomers alike will find it to be a worthwhile purchase all around.

The Scores:
Story/Game Modes: GREAT
Graphics: GOOD
Sound: GOOD
Control/Gameplay: GOOD
Replayability: UNPARALLELED
Balance: ABOVE AVERAGE
Originality: POOR
Addictiveness: GREAT
Appeal: GREAT
Miscellaneous: GREAT
FINAL SCORE: VERY GOOD GAME.

Short Attention Span Summary:
Mortal Kombat is easily a worthwhile purchase for franchise and fighting game fans in general, as it combines the aesthetics of the franchise that make it great with one of the best engines the series has seen, and while it’s not perfect, it’s still a good time. The storyline features some solid writing, the game looks and sounds great, and the gameplay strikes between franchise trademarks and new but functional additions. The game is jam packed with content in every corner and will give you hours and hours of things to do, and the experience is a lot of fun all around in all areas. That said, the plot is somewhat wonky in some parts and doesn’t work as well as it could, the balance is somewhat off in places, the gameplay has some hiccups at times, and the game lacks any real amount of innovation all around. The good far outweighs the bad in Mortal Kombat, however, and it’s easily going to end up as one of the best fighting games to come out this year, simply because it does what it does well overall and is a fun and enjoyable experience that’s worth checking out.

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